By Annabel Kantaria my.telegraph.co.uk
What do you get if you pour thousands of people from over 80 different countries into an enclosed space with little guideline on expected behaviour? A melting pot of cultural differences, in which everyone thinks their way is right. Welcome aboard Dubai Metro.
In the 18 months since it opened, Dubai’s new metro has been a resounding success, with over 170,000 passengers using the 22-train system on a daily basis. But, as passengers with vastly different cultural backgrounds jostle to get through the doors of packed, rush-hour carriages, commuters are finding themselves facing a graphic example of cultural differences.
While some passengers apply the polite principles of Western train etiquette, others are more accustomed to barging into the carriage as quickly as possible. In the morning crush, those who try to respect others’ personal space are squashed alongside those who see nothing offensive about eyeballing you all the way to your stop. You see women who expect men to give up their seats, and you see shy men offer their seats only to be rebuffed.
In general terms, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), which operates Dubai Metro, moderates commuters’ behaviour through a series of strict rules with a sliding scale of fines for offences such as putting your feet on the seats, eating or drinking and “causing inconvenience to other passengers in any way whatsoever”.
In terms of etiquette, the RTA advises passengers not to push; to respect personal space; to move along the platform; to move down into the “cabins”; to give way to other people; and to allow passengers to get off the train before you get on – but such skimpy guidelines are a long way from the established etiquette of longer-standing metro systems around the world.
Singapore’s metro, for example, is known for the orderly queues people form to board the trains. In Seoul, guidelines request that you “stand in four lines to prevent crowding”, “do not lie down on the chair” and “don’t be a shameless free rider.” (Tagline: “Do you really want to exchange your conscience for small changes?”) In Paris, it’s understood that, if the train’s crowded, the fold-down seats should not be used; in New York, you’ll be unpopular if, when seated, your legs splay further than 15cm apart.
In Tokyo and Shanghai – and I hope Chelsea Girl in China will correct me if I’m wrong – I’ve heard that people walk backwards into crowded carriages in order not to invade the personal space of or make eye contact with those already packed inside.
The London Underground, of course, has one of the most established etiquettes. An amusing BBC guide to the Tube advises that passengers “assume a brisk pace, with determination and vigour” when walking to the platform and reminds you never, under any circumstances, to chat, make eye contact or smile at fellow passengers (although “looking sullen, downcast or generally depressed” and exasperated eye-rolling are fine). If you get a seat, you’re warned that, if you wish to sit with your legs apart, you must “do so at no more of an angle than 10 degrees.”
Myself, I’m looking forward to the day when someone writes a unique etiquette for Dubai Metro, incorporating a little something from each of the nationalities that rides it.